The Appellate Group

Ostler v. Department of Public Safety

Ostler v. Department of Public Safety, et al., 2022 UT App 6 (Tenney, J.)

Contract Law

Plaintiff worked as an employee at various Utah public entities for over two decades. After being plated on a reduction in force list, Plaintiff sued for wrongful termination and breach of contract, leading to the release agreement, which, among other things, included a covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Twenty-three years after signing the release agreement, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendants alleging a breach of contract specifically with regard to the good faith and fair dealing covenant. The district court dismissed the case. The Utah Court of Appeals reversed, holding:

  • Because the Defendants only addressed one standard of review rationale, the Court only discussed whether Plaintiff’s motion to amend would have been futile. As both sides put forth reasonable interpretations of the contract provision, that provision is ambiguous. Because of this ambiguity, Plaintiff’s amended complaint “would not be subject to dismissal as a matter of law and his motion to amended therefore would not have been futile.”
  • OF NOTE: The Court of Appeals stated that “[w]hen there are multiple possible bases for a ruling, a district court should explain which of those bases it is (or is not) relying on. Such specificity is important in any case to facilitate meaningful appellate review.” The appellate court relies on the trial court sharing its rationale for its decisions, and without such rationale, the appellate court “cannot effectively review it.” The Court further indicated that “this is particularly important where ‘our ability to meaningfully review’ an issue is in any way ‘dependent upon the trial court’s reasons for its ruling’” such as “when the different possible rationales for the decision are subject to different standards of review on appeal.”
  • OF NOTE: No Utah appellate decision has yet recognized reverse ejusdem generis as a canon of construction, which requires that a “general term reflect back on the more specific [term].” For example, “the phrase ‘A, B, or any other C’ indicates that A is a subset of C.”

Read the full court opinion